Sometimes, no matter how hardcore you are you just can’t get in your workout outside. The tracks are covered in snow and ice. The temperature is double digits below zero. In my world, the kids are all sick and you can’t leave the house. The treadmill is always there. It can be a life saver for busy runners and those living in harsh winter climates. And for that, I and many many runners are supremely grateful.
When people say treadmill running is lesser than outdoor running, I say pish-posh! Treadmill running is great. But as I’ve said before, while it’s great and certainly not lesser than outdoor running, running on the treadmill is different and these differences intensify the faster you go. Because of these differences, not all runs translate from the roads or track to the treadmill. Some need modification for the mill. Some just shouldn’t be done at all on the mill.
Let’s discuss.While treadmill running is not per se easier than outside running as some suggest, running on the treadmill does different things to your body than running outside, because of the movement of the belt:
– The treadmill encourages the recruitment of hip flexor muscles over glutes, so on the treadmill our glutes might get lazy on the treadmill.
– The treadmill encourages more heel striking and leg extension, which can put more strain on the knees, hamstrings and calves.
– The treadmill tells the brain that you’re running on an unstable surface, which activates your stabilizing muscles and can put more strain on muscles like the piriformis or those in your lower back.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN TREADMILL RUNNING IS BAD OR LESS THAN RUNNING OUTSIDE.
Running on hills does different things to our bodies than running on flats. Running on trails is different than running on roads. You get the picture. These are merely the differences and something to consider when deciding which runs you want to do on the treadmill.
So, when you have a training plan and you need to do your day’s run on the treadmill, here are some things to consider.
Easy Runs (Go for it!)
If your run for the day is easy, go for it! Make sure to focus on effort over what the treadmill pace display says. Keep the effort easy and enjoy it!
Long Runs (No problem with a little modification.)
If you have a long run on tap, those biomechanical differences are going to start adding up. I would highly recommend throwing in regular incline for 5-10 minute stretches of your run to distribute the work to other muscles.
Tempo Runs (Do it!)
Treadmill tempos are going to be fine for most people. It is good to get out and do some on your racing surface when you can (tempos are great race day practice), but during the winter or when you can’t get outside the treadmill is a great bet for tempos. Go for it and as always with the treadmill, make sure the effort is right and don’t worry so much about what the pace setting says.
10k – 15k Pace (Probably fine, but be careful.)
If you see something like “cruise intervals” or intervals at paces equivalent to your current 10k-15k race pace on your training schedule, then this advice is for you. If you aren’t struggling with injury, these will probably be fine to do on the treadmill. These are similar to a tempo run, just intervals and the pace is a little faster.
5k – 3k Pace (Use extreme caution.)
If you have the traditional track workout of 5k pace or faster intervals on your schedule, you should avoid doing it on the treadmill if at all possible. Any kind of workout that you do to improve racing form should be avoided on the treadmill. One of the purposes of these faster V02 Max intervals is to improve form (in addition to V02 Max and running economy). Therefore, good form is critical to performing this workout right. I would highly recommend not running this fast on the treadmill. The reason I suggest not doing these workouts on the treadmill is that you won’t be getting the full benefit and your risk of injury will be elevated. It’s not worth it, in my opinion. I would either find a non-treadmill surface for the workout, move it to a day when I could do it on a non-treadmill surface or swap it out for cruise intervals or a tempo.
Strides or Sprints (Don’t do it!)
AVOID! Do not do these on the treadmill. The point of these is to work on turnover, but more importantly improve running form. It’s going to be really hard for you to maintain proper form on the treadmill and the injury risk is too great – absolutely not worth it, in my opinion.
– The longer the treadmill run, the more important it is to throw in incline.
– When thinking about running on a treadmill, consider whether you’d do the workout on a slightly slippery surface. If you wouldn’t do it on a slightly slippery surface, I wouldn’t do it on the treadmill (treadmill running is similar to running on a slippery surface in that it stresses the stabilizing muscles more than running on more stable surfaces).
– It’s always better to run slower or do a different workout than hurt yourself.
– If you are struggling with injuries, especially of stabilizing muscles like calves, lower back or piriformis, really really be wary of doing fast stuff on the mill.
– Always remember when it comes to the treadmill, it’s the effort that counts, not the pace showing on the console.
– If you have found a system that works for you, keep on doing it.
Do you do speed work on the treadmill?
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